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SHRM's annual Talent Conference and Exposition is one of the most anticipated events on talent acquisition pros' calendars — and this year was no different.

Thousands of folks made the trek to Music City, USA (aka Nashville, Tennessee) earlier this week to share strategies and advice around cultivating the best talent possible in this stifling labor market.

From the growth of texting as a recruiting tool to the increasing importance of candidate experience, this year's trends demonstrated that talent recruiting is shifting in favor of applicant preferences. It's time to consider what works best for not only your organization, but also the talent you're trying to attract. Just in case you missed the conference, here are the four biggest talent lessons from the event.

Trend 1: Candidate Experience Is King

While the booming economy and low unemployment hot streak have been great for workers, those of us in talent acquisition face perhaps the most challenging period for recruiting ever. When the number of open jobs exceeds the number of qualified candidates, recruiters need to get creative to cut through the noise and attract the best talent.

The answer (and unofficial buzzword of the conference): candidate experience. We heard that hiring teams need to figure out how to improve candidate engagement across the entire recruiting funnel, in order to deliver faster and more personalized outcomes.

What does that look like? How about ditching those old job templates and spray-and-pray job boards tactics in favor of applying a more human touch.

@ErinMStevens: Your job templates can't make someone “feel!" Personalize the job you are seeking. The candidate is the hero! #SHRMTalent @KatrinaKibben

Also, stop making your candidates jump through hoops. The application process should be as streamlined as possible, as well as mobile-friendly because your competitors' processes are. Speaking of mobile…

Trend 2: Text Recruiting Delivers Results

Recruiters have found that it takes, on average, eight follow-ups via traditional channels (email, social media, etc.) to get their message in front of a candidate, but text messaging reportedly delivers much higher response rates. Stop getting “ghosted" by candidates and build text into your recruiting strategy for more instant, effective communication.

@JodyPowell: How many unopened emails do we all have while we are at #SHRMtalent? Now...how many unopened text messages? (for me, 176 unopened emails and 0 unopened text messages). Incorporate text into your candidate communication plan.

Trend 3: AI Has Grown Beyond Early Adoption

The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning continues to grow, and the most common use case today is automation of tedious tasks like scheduling interviews. That means hiring teams can better prioritize the more human elements of recruiting, like actually speaking with candidates.

@SHRM: “Smaller companies can't afford as much #AI as larger companies. By dipping my toe in it, I see the importance of a personal touch back to humanize the experience & show we are a great place to work." @Paula4Harvey, VP of HR/Safety, Schulte Building Systems #SHRMTalent

Furthermore, the growing sophistication of AI has helped companies cut through hiring biases and process large amounts of applications for popular positions. Don't get left behind—start looking into how AI-powered technology can help your business.

@ErinMStevens: “Over the next decade, AI won't replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those that don't." @jcmeister #SHRMTalent

Trend 4: Untapped Talent Pools Can Solve Talent Shortages

Driven by SHRM's Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, a major theme of the event was how companies could address their hiring woes by tapping into talent pools previously shut out by the labor market. The initiative champions hiring the formerly incarcerated, but conference sessions explored upskilling programs and retraining opportunities for other often-overlooked cohorts, including veterans, older workers and people with disabilities as an underutilized opportunity to pick up great talent.

CEOs today recognize the strategic importance of hiring, and consistently say that attracting top talent is one of their top challenges. While we're all feeling the pain of this talent crunch, it's incredible to see the persistence of recruiters out there trying to find and grow the best workers for their companies.

Photo: Creative Commons